Mary E. Campione

Software Engineering:
Computer Science

I grew up in a very traditional, military family. Girls became young ladies, married at an early age (before they were 20 years old), and had children. They did not learn mathematics or science, and certainly didn't go to college. Every time we got into a discussion about college, my parents would ask, "Why waste four years in college, and all that money, if you're just going to get married and have children?"

When I was about seven years old, these restrictions make me decide that being a girl was basically a bad thing but that fortunately, I was really a boy. So I dressed like a boy, played "army" and "fort" with boys and did well in school - especially in science and math. To this day, I'm not sure how I managed to act like a boy for so long without my parents putting a stop to it, But they didn't. I finally relinquished my boyhood a few years later, but by then I was headstrong and adamant that I could do things girls weren't supposed to do.

All through high school I continued to earn straight A's, and participated in a number of sports. A teacher dropped a couple of hints that completely formed my choice of college and major. Once he said, "I think you'd be good at computer science." weeks later he commented " Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo has a good computer science program." So that's how I ended up majoring in Computer Science at San Luis Obispo.

During the first two years of college, my major courses were filled with about half women and half men. In the third and fourth years, the number of women in the math and computer science courses dwindled, until there were just one or two women in a class of 25 students.

In the summer after my sophomore year, I went to the San Francisco Bay Area to take a cooperative education position at a small company called Fortune Systems. For the first time, my family saw the value of college - after only two years of study, I was already making more money than my father.

I've been out of college for more than eight years now. The number of women in my field has grown, but even now I know of at least one company where the engineering organization is staffed with more than 80 men and only 2 women. I've worked for three different companies in Silicon Valley. My jobs have included programming, software design, technical writing, and supporting third-party software developers. While I was in the last of those "real" jobs, a partner and I started a software company that develops applications for the NEXTSTEP software platform. We work as contractors, using our technical writing, object-oriented design, and programming skills. We've also written two computer books.

Recently, I got married. Even though my parents are very proud of my accomplishments, I think they're relieved that I "finally" got married. I talked to my mother the other day - she still wants to know when we're going to have children.

Excerpt from the book She Does Math! by Marla Parker
Parker, Marla; She Does Math!; Washington, D.C.; The Mathematical Association of America; 1995